Monday, July 2, 2012
Help Me Howard: Hoarder
Hoarding is sad. People who, for certain reasons, cannot throw anything away, leaving their home a terrible mess. In some cases, that is their right. But what happens when a hoarder starts to impact their neighbors? It's why one man called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "Absolutely. This is my home. I love this place. Coming to an environment where you are comfortable, where you can relax."
But over the last few months, uncomfortable things have happened at his North Miami Beach condo. Outside, for example.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "We had a roach infestation here, where our balcony was full of roaches, and I was wondering, Where are these things coming from?"
A picture of the condo balcony above Pedro's showed his neighbor was feeding pigeons.
A curtain pushed back shows things stacked by the neighbor's window. Pedro offered to help her clean up.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "And it was a challenge. She would not open the door."
A few months passed. Then, water started pouring into Pedro's bathroom.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "You can see the bubbles getting bigger and bigger and bigger."
The association went into the condo a floor above Pedro's, and this is what they faced.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "You cannot get in. It was unreal."
The Crestview condo is owned by hoarders, a brother and sister who live here.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "It's crazy, it's crazy. I have never seen anything like that."
Piles and piles of, to put it politely, stuff, stacked up so high it blocks the window.
Barely any room to walk anywhere, a toilet with spiders, a bathtub filled with dark, dirty water. And look closely in the tub.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "In the tub it was a turtle. She had a turtle in the tub."
The smell in the condo was overpowering. The plumber who came to fix the leak refused to work and left.
Then, a couple of days later, the ceiling in Pedro's bathroom collapsed.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "I just don't want to continue living like this."
And when the association went into the condo, they also found this dog.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "I have never seen her walk that dog. I didn't even know she had a dog. And that's another concern that I have: This poor animal living in this type of environment."
Pedro says there has been no electricity in the condo for two years. The frightening result: Neighbors say the brother and sister use candles at night for light.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "I am concerned a candle may burn, fall, cause some type of fire."
Pedro called several government agencies. He was told no one had the authority to force them to clean up.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "It's concerning, it's concerning to me."
First of all, Pedro is compassionate. He wants the hoarders, living like this in unimaginable conditions, to get some help.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "Ideally, I would like for it to be taken care of, for her to get some assistance, have the place cleaned up."
Pedro is also a condo owner and knows if the hoarders don't get help, his condo is doomed.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "How can this not be a hazard? Not only to them but everybody else in this association who lives here?"
Well Howard, there are several victims here: The hoarders and the other condo owners who live around them. But legally, what can be done?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "It's not illegal to hoard until you cross a line, and that line is when you become a danger or health hazard to yourself or others. When that happens, several government agencies can act to protect the condos and residents, even if it means getting a judge to remove the hoarders until the condo is made safe."
We don't want the hoarders to have to leave for awhile, so we went to see if they would let us help them.
The smell in the hallway was not pleasant. They would not answer the door.
I then started calling agencies to see what we could do for Pedro and the hoarders.
Several, such as DCF and North Miami Beach, wanted to help.
The hoarders then did let a plumber in to try to fix the leak. But as expected, they would not accept any more help.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "They went up there, and the lady has been very, very difficult to work with."
Crestview Towers is going to pay to repair Pedro's roof, but Pedro realizes, unless something is done, the next time it might not be a leak. It might be a fire from a candle.
Pedro Gomez, Impacted by Hoarder: "It's terrible. It's just really frustrating."
Patrick Fraser: "As Howard said, if the hoarders don't accept the help that's offered, a judge will have to remove them until the place can be cleaned up. In a case like this, there's no easy solution."
Collecting headaches like your mailbox collects bills? Ready to clear out the mess? Contact us. We don't let things pile up; we don't have the space.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com